October 31 , 2005
Transforming Community Project
honest look at race
by michael terrazas
As part of Emory’s Unity Month celebration (see
story, page 5), the co-chairs of the Transforming Community Project
(TCP) will hold an informational session for all members of the University
community on Thursday, Nov. 3, at noon in Winship Ballroom.
Leslie Harris, associate professor of history and African
American studies, and Gary Hauk, vice president and deputy to the
are heading up the TCP,
now in full swing after being launched last year by Harris and Catherine Manegold,
professor of journalism. The project is an ambitious, five-year undertaking that
hopes to live up to its name by taking an honest, comprehensive look at the issue
of race at Emory—past, current and into the future.
“At Emory we have a big emphasis on the idea of community, of ethical community,” said
Harris, acknowledging that the impetus for TCP was a 2003 racial incident in
the anthropology department. “It started there, but it doesn’t stop
“If you talk to whites at Emory, many—not all, but many—have
a positive view of race here,” she continued. “If you talk to blacks,
they have a somewhat different sense, that there’s a lot of racial tension.
So it’s an attempt to get these groups in conversation with each other
during—and this is very important—a non-reactive moment. Perhaps
then we can have a more constructive conversation, one where where we truly work
toward compromise as opposed to just ‘fixing’ a problem.”
Those non-reactive moments have been happening all
semester through the TCP’s
first undertaking: a series of ongoing Community Dialogues, each composed
of 12–15 individuals from all corners of the University, who
agree to meet regularly and talk about race, both in society as a
whole and at the micro level
Currently four such dialogues are under way—three
on the Atlanta campus and one at Oxford—and participants say
they’ve been encouraged by
an exercise that has both informed them and created an atmosphere of trust.
“Race is a difficult, hot-button issue, and sometimes it’s easier
just not to say anything,” said Joe Moon, Oxford dean of campus life and
a participant in the Community Dialogue ongoing there.
Moon said his group has meet three or four times. Like
the rest of the dialogues, it is led by a pair of facilitators and
of the group’s
homework (an article or book chapter, for instance) or of a film clip which
the group watches together. From there, however, the dialogue can range
from the broadest generalizations to the most intimate personal experiences.
“Most of the comments are pretty personal,” said Maureen Sweatman,
assistant director of the Emory Scholars Program and a participant in one of
the Atlanta-campus dialogues. Sweatman admitted she is somewhat skeptical about
the prospect of “transforming” community, but she still believes
the dialogues are a positive step. “I’m of the mind that dialogue
is a good thing,” she said. “If nothing else, people are expanding
their understanding of race and culture and everything that goes into it.”
But Harris and Hauk hope for much bigger things from
the TCP, and 2005–06
is just the beginning. In subsequent years the project will dig its collective
hands deep into the dirt of Emory’s racial culture, as far back
as 1836 and possibly earlier, as it attempts to unearth better understanding
lead to positive change.
Though the Community Dialogues will continue throughout
the life of TCP (indeed, individual groups will meet as long as they
said), the project
will expand in future years to include ever-more creative research tools.
For instance, one idea is to collect oral histories of people’s
experiences with race at Emory, and another is to encourage related curricula
and perhaps even contributions through the arts.
“The project will be defined by the community,” Harris said. “The
more different perspectives we get, the more true to the Emory community the
project will be. For instance, when we talk about Emory history, we’re
talking about a time of slavery, but we’re also talking about a time of
native American removal. What impact might that have had on things like Emory’s
physical location, the very geography of the campus? This won’t be a one-sided
view of history that covers only one or two groups.”
Light refreshments will be served at the Nov. 3 event,
which also is sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Programs and
directly tied to TCP but related to its objective is a “Diversity
and Race Dialogue” with
Provost Earl Lewis, sponsored by the President’s Commission and
Race and Ethnicity, to be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, from 5–6:30 p.m.
in Winship Ballroom. For more information about either event, call